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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

'NYT' Corrects D.C. Shooter/AR-15 Story—But Key Claim Remains

Police block off the M Street, SE, as they respond to a shooting at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, September 16, 2013. (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

After two days of criticism and rising doubts, The New York Times finally corrected a crucial fact in one of its featured pieces this week, by Michael Schmidt, on the massacre at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC. But the correction only heightened the mystery.

It all began when Schmidt broke the story that Aaron Alexis had fired off a few rounds from the assault rifle at a Virginia shooting range and gun store, but was prevented from buying it because state law prevents such quick sales to out-of-staters. So Aaron bought the shotgun that ended up doing plenty of damage itself. The Times even featured the role of the law right in the headline (“State Law Prevented Sale…”).

It was an important angle. The media had falsely reported that Alexis had used an AR-15 during his rampage, based on police reports, and was being accused by the usual gun advocates of deliberately pushing that lie to help its gun control allies. But here was a new detail that seemed to fully bolster the gun control argument: the killer had tried to buy an assualt rifle, which could have fired many more rounds and faster than a shotgun (he only had twenty-four shells for that weapon) but been turned away thanks to a gun measure.

But the next day a Washington Times reporter, who has used the shooting range in the past, charged that there is no such law in Virginia and her sources claimed Alexis didn’t even try to buy the AR-15—and she demanded the Times correct its story. It did not, for quite a spell.

CBS News offered a story that fell somewhere in between, stating that he did try to buy weapon but was rebuffed—for an unknown reason. NBC said a lawyer for the shooting range/gun store told them he didn’t know if Alexis did try to purchase the AR-15.

Then Talking Points Memo talked to the same lawyer for the store and now he denied that Alexis tried to buy the AR-15. Mediaite talked to a salesman at the store, who refused to give his name, who also claimed that Alexis did not try to purchase the assault rifle.

Nevertheless, hosts and guests on cable news, and others on the web, continued to use the he-couldn’t-buy-an-AR-15 claim.

Late last night, the Times corrected the Schmidt article. However, it did not change—and still has not revised—the key claim that the shooter tried to buy gun and was stopped by the law. Now there’s no explanation of why that occurred, if it did occur. If not prevented because he was out of state, then why?

Here’s the correction:

An article on Wednesday about the gunman in the Navy Yard shooting, using information from senior law enforcement officials, misstated a provision in Virginia state gun law. Out-of-state buyers must provide additional forms of identification to purchase a high-capacity AR-15 rifle; the laws do not prohibit the sales of all AR-15 rifles to all out-of-state residents.

Stay tuned.

Blame a Feminist: The Top Tragedies Feminism Has Wrought

(Reuters/Eric Thayer)

If you’re having a bad day, there’s a national tragedy, or the weather just doesn’t seem right—it’s probably thanks to a feminist. After all, feminism has been blamed for everything from killing the family to traffic. Seriously. This week—in the wake of the tragic shootings in DC—a GOP Senate candidate blamed women in the workplace.

So here are a few of my favorite things feminism has been blamed for:

Impotence: Laura Sessions Stepp (of Unhooked fame) wrote in The Washington Post that young women’s feeling empowered to initiate sex was causing a scourge of impotence among college-aged men: “According to surveys, young women are now as likely as young men to have sex and by countless reports are also as likely to initiate sex, taking away from males the age-old, erotic power of the chase….. One can argue that a young woman speaking her mind is a sign of equality. “That’s a good thing,” says [teacher Robin] Sawyer, father of four daughters. “But for some guys, it has come at a price.” Because if there’s one thing that kills straight guys’ boners, it’s girls that want to have to sex with them.

Crime: Concerned Women for America, the anti-feminist organization, believes that feminism is behind the increase of incarcerated women. According to CWA’s then-president Wendy Wright, feminism made a grave error in promoting women’s autonomy: “Such ideology, which often encourages women to feel that ‘they don’t need to be dependent on a husband and they shouldn’t have to depend on their family,’ could be leading women into these kinds of activities ‘where they’re forced to fend for themselves,’ Wright says.” Hear that ladies? Husbands don’t just take out the trash, they keep you out of jail!

Mass Shootings: It’s not just women in the workplace that’s behind mass shootings, it’s “feminized” schools. According to Charlotte Allen in National Review Online, the murder of twenty children at Sandy Hook Elementary School can be traced back to the lack of men around : “There was not a single adult male on the school premises when the shooting occurred….. There didn’t even seem to be a male janitor to heave his bucket at Adam Lanza’s knees. [A] feminized setting is a setting in which helpless passivity is the norm.” Guns don’t kill people, feminized settings kill people.

Traffic & Environmental Decline: Women are so selfish, with their wanting to work outside the home. Don’t they know they’re single handedly ruining the environment? According to Jack Cashill—a writer who just put out a book, If I Had a Son: Race, Guns and the Railroading of George Zimmerman (ahem)—feminism is bad for the environment. Or, as he writes, “Equal pay for equal work also means equal commutes.” Cashill continues by saying that stay-at-home moms “save the state’s highway infrastructure from meltdown, especially since a ‘nanny’ often drives to the working mom’s house, putting three cars on the road where otherwise one would do. Homeschooling moms further ease the strain on the ecosystem by keeping their kids off the road.” The less you gals leave home, the better off the earth will be!

Anthony Weiner: You may have thought that the only person responsible in the Anthony Weiner sexting controversy was Weiner himself—how shortsighted of you! Thankfully, Fox News set the record straight and pointing to the real culprit: feminism. You see, feminists made it easy for slutty, slutty girls to go on the Internet and entice men into sin. Because birth control.

This is just a small sampling of the horror that feminism has brought to our doorstep. We didn’t even get into the ways feminism caused the horrors in Abu Ghraib (so says Phyllis Schlafly) or helped Michael Jackson’s criminal defense.

So when you’re tasked with seeking the root cause of a major problem, don’t waste your time looking to the easiest answer—look to feminism instead! If you work really hard, I’m sure you can find a link. And remember, any time you get a paper cut, or trip over something or a man somewhere stubs his toe—that’s not an accident, friends, it’s just a feminist getting her wings.

This Week in 'Nation' History: Iran and the US, From Coup to Revolution—to Détente?

(Reading / Simpson) via Flickr.com

Just days before his arrival in New York for the UN General Assembly, advisers to Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, announced their government’s willingness to directly negotiate with the United States in order to end the decade-long nuclear standoff and to remove international sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. “We must work together to end the unhealthy rivalries and interferences that fuel violence and drive us apart,” Rouhani wrote in an op-ed in Friday’s Washington Post.

If sincerely pursued, these promising developments have the potential to repair fraught, decades-old cleavages in the American-Iranian relationship. While many on the American right would prefer to believe those frictions began with the Islamist-led revolution of 1979, many Iranians still remember the US-backed coup of 1953 which overthrew Mohammed Mossadegh, a democratically-elected prime minister—its well-known participation in which the CIA only officially acknowledged last month—and how, for decades after, American companies and government officials exploited the Iranian economy and directly assisted in the suppression of its people.

Throughout those decades, Nation writers reported from Iran about the discord, anger, and frustration American meddling had instilled in the Iranian people. After 1979, writers like Kai Bird and the late Fred Halliday reported on the promise and eventual disappointment of the revolution. Reading these articles today, perhaps at the dawn of a new era in Iranian-American relations, gives a sense of how much has gone wrong between the two countries, but also how much could be set right with smart diplomacy and new leadership.


In the September 24, 1960 issue of The Nation, a Fulbright scholar named Stanley Cooperman wrote a remarkable article, “Iran’s False Front,” detailing the extent of American activity in the country and the bitter resentment it was causing among the people. With telling detail and astounding prescience, Cooperman’s article provides a window onto life in Iran during the Shah’s regime and, in hindsight, shows why the revolution which eventually did come bore such ill-will toward the United States:

Teheran seems almost a boom town. Construction is proceeding at an enormous rate, and there is hardly a block, especially in the northern or ‘European’ sections, that is without its new apartment building. These new buildings, however, are inhabited almost exclusively by Europeans, especially Americans; the rents are extremely high by any standard, and astronomical for an economy in which an experienced engineer earns $200 a month, or just about the cost of a decent apartment…

It is, most certainly, a typical Alice-in-Wonderland situation: American dollars are being spent on structures only Americans can afford to rent. One Persian, an office supervisor, explained it this way: “I hate the sound of foreign aid. Before American dollars started coming here, I had one job and a decent apartment. Now I have three jobs and still had to leave my apartment because the landlord wanted to rent to an American. Who is being ‘improved,’ anyway? …

Several men in the American Embassy here…admit that the middle class has become increasingly disaffected under the Shah’s regime. They add, however, that these ‘dreamy individualists’ could never take matters into their own hands…

Until the Persian Government realizes that a politically disenfranchised middle class is potentially dangerous; and until the Shah himself realizes that Westernization, as it is now proceeding in Iran, has increased rather than decreased social and economic pressure, the Imperial Army must continue to train its guns upon the capital city. There is, certainly, no impending ‘revolution’; political apathy, for the time being, is no less marked than the cynicism voiced privately by so many Persians in all walks of life. But political apathy is a poor foundation for any government, especially in the Middle East. Given the emergence of a powerful personality at the right moment, or a shift in world power alignments, and the ‘dreamy individualism’ of Persia may explode once again, with serious consequences.

Cooperman eventually became a well-known poet and critic, but he died in 1976, just two years before he would have seen that prediction come almost entirely true.

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Mass protests against the shah did explode in 1978, uniting in opposition disparate elements of a long-seething population. Linda Heiden, a longtime freelance journalist who still writes about the Middle East, wrote an article for The Nation that October, “Iran Against Pahlavi: The Peacock Throne Under Siege,” in which she countered the view, then prevalent in Western media, that Pahlavi had suddenly turned into a reformer—one, as Time magazine wrote at the time, “deeply wounded by events spawned from his own dream for Iran…searching for ways to calm his troubled people.” That, Heiden wrote, was bunk:

One does not have to dig very deeply to find the roots of the dissent. The Shah’s economic development programs, designed and executed with considerable U.S. Government and corporate assistance, have been disastrous for Iran’s workers and peasants. Land reform implemented through the Shah’s ‘White Revolution’ has forced millions of peasants into the cities, pushing pay scales for unskilled labor below subsistence levels. Meanwhile, the most fertile land has been increasingly turned over to capital-intensive agribusiness concerns owned or controlled by such multinational corporate interests as the Chase Manhattan Bank, Dow Chemical and John Deere Corporation…

This economic pattern contributes handsomely to the profits of certain sectors of the Western economies, but it neither strengthens Iran’s productive capacity nor relieves its pressing social ills. Even the massive industrialization envisioned by the regime depends heavily on foreign technology, investments and skilled labor. Furthermore, these projects are affected by international price structures and markets for their successful operation and thus inflict the burdens of foreign inflation rates, market fluctuations and monetary crises upon the Iranian economy. By the time the Shah’s costly nuclear energy program, highly sophisticated communications network and labyrinthine, corrupt bureaucracy have been funded, there is little left to alleviate the social ills that are now pushing his unwilling subjects to revolt.

Today’s readers might be taken aback by the reference to the shah’s nuclear program, supported by the United States and its European allies, which reportedly included a clandestine weapons component. Ayatollah Khomeini discontinued the program after 1979, believing it contravened Islamic law and morality, though a few years later he reversed course.

By January, the opposition movement had forced the shah to flee with his family. Momentarily, at least, it looked as if the motley collaboration between Iranian liberals and Islamists could help a modern Iran move beyond its authoritarian inheritance. Nation editorial board member Richard Falk, in “Iran’s Home-grown Revolution” (February 10, 1979), wrote:

Not only is the political, economic and cultural destiny of an important country at stake, not only is a fundamental challenge to American foreign policy involved, but a completely new revolutionary process is unfolding in Iran that is independent of the legacy of all previous revolutions. Its success or defeat will inevitably exert an awesome impact on the overall prospects of some 700 million Moslems elsewhere, and, quite possibly, on non-Moslem peoples throughout the third world…

For religion to assume a revolutionary posture is to challenge Western pre-conceptions that a religious outlook is irrelevant, or even hostile, to social change. The religious core of the Khomeini movement is a call for social justice, fairness in the distribution of wealth, a productive economy organized around national needs and a simplicity of life style and absence of corruption that minimizes differences between rich and poor, rulers and ruled.

That optimism soon yielded, in The Nation as well as among many in Iran and around the world, to great frustration and acute discontent. After visiting Iran in the spring of 1979, Kai Bird—then Nation assistant editor, later a Washington correspondent, acclaimed writer, and now a contributing editor—wrote in “Making Iran Safe for Theocracy”:

The Iranian revolution has soured the hopes of many who expected so much more in the way of radical economic reforms and a genuinely indigenous, albeit Islamic, democracy. That the leading actors turn out to be flirting with the authoritarian ways of the Pahlavis can only arouse disappointment, but there are other, more democratic actors waiting in the wings. And they have witnessed a revolution that felled a hitherto unchallenged dictatorship. That momentous precedent will not soon be forgotten.

But two years later, the situation had only deteriorated, leading the late Fred Halliday, a widely-respected expert on Iran and the wider Middle East, to declare it a “stolen revolution.” The Islamicization of Iran represented anything but the true, “indigenous” spirit of the country, he wrote:

Khomeini ceaselessly preaches the message that he stands for pure Iranian and Islamic values against the alien, corrupt and foreign values of the Westernized elite. But Iran was never a country with a homogenous Islamic culture. It has pre-Islamic values and traditions, and a great degree of ethnic diversity within it…Under the guise of elevating indigenous values over alien ones, and by invoking anti-imperialism, the Khomeini forces are trying to impose their narrow set of values on a culture which has long been heterogeneous. And there are some Iranians who point out ruefully that nothing is more alien that the Bedouin religion which the Arabs imposed on the country in 642 A.D.

Now thirty years later, there appears to be a potential for a US opening with Iran that is almost on historical par in its significance with the opening with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985-86. It seems that for economic and broader international reasons Iran's political establishment has decided to pursue an opening to the United States that could lead to a nuclear agreement, make Iran a constructive partner in securing the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria and in arranging some kind of negotiated settlement, help bring about an Israeli-Palestinian peace with its positive influence on Hamas, and stop the rush toward sectarian war in the Middle East. President Obama, who for the first time has written directly to an Iranian President (the contents of his letter still unknown), now has a historic opportunity—one in the US's national security interests—to craft an accord with the country's new leaders. Yet it remains an open question as to whether, given his foreign policy team and the fractious politics of Washington, he will be able to do so.

The days ahead will reveal if President Obama acts boldly and constructively to takes steps that could re-define, some might say salvage, his second term. As the Syria crisis demonstrates, if the US is to achieve long-lasting resolution to the Middle East's security challenges, it must test and seize all diplomatic and political solutions.


Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.

This Week in Poverty: New Data, Same Story (and Same Dangerous House Republicans)

A woman walks by a dilapidated house in Nebraska. (Reuters)

For me, the biggest takeaway from the new Census data on poverty has little to do with the data itself—it’s this: we’ve long known what to do to take the next steps in the fight against poverty, and we still know what to do to take the next steps in the fight against poverty. But we’re not doing it.

If you look all the way back to the 2007 inaugural report of the Half in Ten campaign—written by Peter Edelman, Angela Glover Blackwell and other antipoverty heavyweights—it was clear then that raising the minimum wage, strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and improving childcare assistance could reduce poverty by 26 percent. Add lessons that we have since learned from initiatives like the bipartisan (at least when it comes to state governors) subsidized jobs program, and a more responsive food stamp (SNAP) program, and we know that we could make significant strides to reduce poverty were there the political will—or more accurately, a movement to create the political will.

In lieu of that, for the eleventh time in twelve years, poverty has worsened or stayed the same. It remains stuck at 15 percent, with 46 million people living on less than about $18,300 for a family of three. That includes nearly 22 percent of all children, 27 percent of African-Americans, 25 percent of Hispanics and more than 28 percent of people with disabilities (the next group conservatives will likely target after they are through with those who currently need food stamp assistance).

Significantly, 44 percent of those in poverty live below half the poverty line—in “deep poverty”—on less than about $9,150 for a family of three. That adds up to 20.4 million people, and includes 15 million women and children—nearly 10 percent of all children in the United States. Deep poverty and its accompanying toxic stress are particularly harmful to children. We also have evidence that just a modest boost in income—$3000 in earnings or government benefits for a family living on less than $25,000—makes a significant difference in the lives of young children when they reach adulthood, both in the hours they will work and the income they will earn.

Another number that remained stagnant last year is the number of people living below twice the poverty line—on less than $36,600 for a family of three. That describes 106 million Americans, more than one in three of us. These are people who are living a single hardship—such as a lost job or serious family illness—away from poverty.

While conservatives will use the 15 percent poverty rate as fodder to label as a failure the War on Poverty launched nearly fifty years ago—since the official poverty rate is about the same now as it was in the late-1960s—we know that one has to overlook critical information to reach this conclusion.

Some examples: the poverty rate would be twice as high now—nearly 30 percent—without the safety net. Food stamp benefits aren’t included in the official poverty rate, but they lifted a record 4 million people above the poverty line in 2012; nor are the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), which in 2011 moved 9.4 million people above the poverty line. In fact, in 2011 the official poverty rate would have dropped from 15.0 percent to 10.9 percent if it included food stamps, EITC and CTC. (See, too, Martha Bailey and Sheldon Danziger’s new book, Legacies of the War on Poverty.)

“If you took the official poverty measure and accounted for the effect of the biggest benefits that it leaves out—SNAP, rent subsidies, and tax credits for working families—you’d find that poverty in the United States is significantly lower today than it was at any time in the 1960s,” said Arloc Sherman, senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “That’s true even despite today’s shaky economy.”

There were some obvious missed opportunities to reduce the poverty rate last year. In 2012, unemployment insurance (UI) benefits reduced poverty by 1.7 million people, compared to 2.3 million people in 2011 and 3.2 million people in 2010. According to the CBPP, the weakened antipoverty effect is in part due to reduced federal and state UI benefits and long-term unemployed workers exhausting their eligibility.

“The number of unemployed workers receiving no unemployment benefits is actually higher today than at any point in the recession,” writes Robert Greenstein, president of the CBPP. He notes that if UI benefits had been as effective as they were at reducing poverty among the jobless and their families in 2010, the poverty rate would have fallen over the past two years.

But more than just missing opportunities for effective policy, we now face a Congress poised to make matters worse for those who are faring the worst in our economy.

As Greenstein notes, federal UI benefits for the long-term unemployed are scheduled to expire in the end of 2013 and may well not be renewed. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the sequester will cost 900,000 jobs by the third quarter of 2014. As for food stamps—which average $1.50 per person, per meal—there will be cuts to benefits in November that will affect 22 million children. House Republicans voted last night for an additional $40 billion in SNAP cuts that truly boggle the mind—both from a moral and economic perspective. Senate Democrats also agreed to $4 billion in cuts that would harm 500,000 families who are currently struggling to meet their basic food needs.

“No program does more than SNAP to protect children from the effects of deep poverty, and yet the House just voted to cut 3.8 million people off the program, including many of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country,” Sherman wrote me in an email. “Some of those cut will be children, others will be seniors. Others will be poor childless adults who are out of work; the bill specifically targets those living in areas with the highest unemployment, where it’s hardest to find work.”

Edelman, who has about as much perspective on the public policy fight against poverty as anyone—having lived and worked on it through much of its history since serving as a legislative assistant for Senator Robert Kennedy—is struck by the nature of the newest attacks against antipoverty policies.

“In the past year the kinds of distortions and misstatements that characterize the arguments against the public policy that we have are even more troubling than they were before,” said Edelman, author of So Rich, So Poor: Why it’s So Hard to End Poverty in America. “Because now for example, there is a significant number of people who want to characterize food stamps as being something that keeps people from looking for jobs—a totally made up thing. It’s such a gross distortion.”

If there is any hope to be gleaned from the latest economic snapshots of what Americans are experiencing when it comes to income and poverty, it lies in the notion that perhaps more people are beginning to see that the needs of low-income people and a dwindling middle class are converging. When the top 1 percent see an income gain of 20 percent, and everyone else has a gain of just 1 percent—something has to give.

“We’re not seeing much growth in jobs, we’re not seeing much growth in wages for anybody, so it shouldn’t be surprising that people’s incomes are going nowhere,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute.

Edelman points to the living wage campaigns at Walmart stores and fast food restaurants as positive signs. He also calls for “campaigns of public information” to influence public opinion about people in poverty and near poverty.

“Absent a serious change in our politics, which depends on really hard work organizing and reaching people to change attitudes—we’re not going to get the policies we need and we’ll be stuck in this mess for quite a while to come,” he said.


Tell President Obama: Ensure Federal Contractors Pay a Living Wage

Share your story: How has the safety net helped you make ends meet?


2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards (Wednesday, October 16, St. James’ Episcopal Church in New York City). These awards are presented annually to distinguished individuals or organizations who represent one of FDR’s famous “Four Freedoms”—Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. This year’s laureates include the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, who have fought to improve working conditions for Florida’s tomato pickers; Sister Simone Campbell of “Nuns on the Bus” fame; Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman; Ameena Matthews of Chicago’s Violence Interrupters; and poet and farm-to-table activist Wendell Berry, who will receive the overall Freedom Medal. You can learn more and RSVP to the free public ceremony here.

Clips and Other Resources

Legacies of the War on Poverty,” Martha Bailey and Sheldon Danziger

Finally, Domestic Workers Get Basic Labor Protections,” Sheila Bapat

The Top 3 Things You Need to Know About the New Poverty and Income Data,” Melissa Boteach

Seven Ways Occupy Changed America—and Is Still Changing It,” David Calahan

Breaking Ground,” Kavitha Cardoza (AUDIO)

Poverty Rate and Income Stagnate as Conservatives Attack the Safety Net,” Zoe Carpenter

Child Poverty in the US,” Center for Law and Social Policy

New Census Data Confirms Economy Isn’t Working,” Coalition on Human Needs

Stop playing politics with hunger,” Bob Dole and Tom Daschle

Innovating in Early Head Start: Can Reducing Toxic Stress Improve Outcomes for Young Children?” Carol Gerwin

In Light Of Census Numbers, Cutting SNAP Would Be Irresponsible,” Elise Gould and Hilary Wething

Ten myth-busting facts about welfare,” Heather Hahn

Slow economic recovery reflected in stagnant income and poverty data,” Doug Hall and Alyssa Davis

Lifelines for Poor Children,” James Heckman

State Tax Codes As Poverty Fighting Tools,” Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

House Bill Would Cut 3.8 Million People From Food Stamp Rolls,” Tamara Keith (AUDIO)

Experts weigh in: Are we losing the war on poverty?” Nicole Levins

Why is the Federal Poverty Line So Far Off?” John Light

A System Designed For And By The People,” Kirsten Lodal

The Children Are Still Poor in America,” Hannah Matthews

By the Numbers: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage 2012,” Lawrence Mishel and Elise Gould

Preview: Inequality for All,” Moyers & Company

We can end child poverty—or, at least, do more,” Austin Nichols

DC Mayor’s Veto of Wal-Mart Wage Bill is a National Outrage,” Isaiah Poole

Official Poverty Measure Masks Gains Made Over Last 50 Years,” Arloc Sherman

Book Review: Kindness and a ‘Harsh’ Ala. Immigration Law,” Thomas Vasquez

Mismatches in Race to the Top Limit Educational Improvement,” Elaine Weiss

Living Below the Line: Economic Insecurity and America’s Families,” Wider Opportunities for Wome

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Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $23,492 for a family of four): 46.5 million people, 15 percent.

African-American poverty rate: 27.2 percent.

Hispanic poverty rate: 25.6 percent.

White poverty rate: 9.7 percent.

People with disabilities: 28 percent.

Poorest age group: children, 34.6 percent of all people in poverty are children.

Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 21.8 percent, including 38 percent of African-American children, 34 percent of Latino children, and 12 percent of white children.

Poverty rate among families with children headed by single mothers: 40.9 percent.

Gender gap: Women 31 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Deep poverty (less than $9,142 for a family of three): 20.4 million people, 1 in 15 Americans, nearly 10 percent of all children

up from 12.6 million in 2000—increase 59%

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, approximately 1 in 3 Americans.

Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.

Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.

Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.

Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers)

Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation since 1968: $10.59.

Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains: $18.72.

Hourly wage needed to lift a family of four above poverty line, 2011: $11.06

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 for every 100 families living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2011: 27 for every 100 families living in poverty.

Impact of public policy, 2011: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.

Number of people 65 or older kept out of poverty by Social Security: 15.3 million

Quotes of the Week

“Children’s ability to survive, thrive and develop must not depend on the lottery of geography of birth. A child is a child and should be protected by a national floor of decency. We can and must end child poverty. It’s about values. It’s about priorities. It’s about who we are as Americans. The greatest threat to America’s national security comes from no foreign enemy but from our failure to invest in healthy and educated children.”
   —Marian Wright Edelman, president of Children’s Defense Fund.

“Following on the heels of multiple new reports on the tens of millions of Americans struggling with unemployment, inadequate wages and hunger, today’s vote by the House to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $40 billion is simply divorced from the reality of constituents’ lives. Members who voted for this bill have voted to increase hunger in their districts and around the country.”
   ——Jim Weill, president of Food Research and Action Center.

This Week in Poverty posts here on Friday mornings, and again at Moyers & Company. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

Sasha Abramsky, author of The American Way of Poverty, discussed the new poverty data from a both historical and international perspective in his article America's Shameful Poverty Stats.

Is the Pope Getting on Board With the Nuns on the Bus?

(Reuters/Tony Gentile)

Pope Francis says: “I have never been a right-winger…

And the 266th and current pope of the Catholic Church went a good distance in confirming that sentiment in a remarkable interview with the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, the editor of the Italian Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica.

Asked about the church’s stance with regard to lesbians and gays, the Pope replied:

In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are “socially wounded” because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro, I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” We must always consider the person.

But the Pope, in the interview that has been published by the New York–based Jesuit journal America, went further, volunteering that

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

As Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity, a group that advocates for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Catholics, says, the Pope’s words “signaled an entirely new direction for the Catholic Church.”

“To me, it is a clear directive to the bishops of the church to end their antigay campaigns,” says Duddy-Burke. “He is essentially saying, ‘Go back to being pastors, stop being rule-enforcers.’”

Whether that aspiration will become reality, especially in the United States, remains to be seen. But, in the interview, the Pope bluntly declared, “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

That new balance could have significant consequences for American political debates.

During the 2010 debate over health-care reform, the balancing act was a difficult one. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed passage of the Affordable Care Act because of its language on abortion, and created significant pressure on Catholic Democrats to do the same. But its message was countered by a letter from Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, which strongly supported the legislation. Then Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, released a letter signed by leaders of communities and organizations representing tens of thousands of nuns. The letter announced:

The health care bill that has been passed by the Senate and that will be voted on by the House will expand coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans. While it is an imperfect measure, it is a crucial next step in realizing health care for all. It will invest in preventative care. It will bar insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It will make crucial investments in community health centers that largely serve poor women and children. And despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments—$250 million—in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.

Network and other Catholic social justice groups have argued, often in the face of significant criticism, that the church must strike a better balance that highlights advocacy on poverty and economic injustice issues.

Network’s ongoing “Nuns on the Bus” tour directly challenged one of the most prominent Catholics in American politics: Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, who was Republican nominee for vice president in 2012.

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At the Democratic National Convention last year, Network executive director Sister Simone Campbell, fresh from a high-profile “Nuns on the Bus” tour that visited Ryan’s district, declared that the House Budget Committee chairman’s budget proposal “failed a basic moral test, because it would harm families living in poverty.”

To thunderous applause from delegates, many Catholics who had tears in their eyes, Sister Simone affirmed that “Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are correct when they say that each individual should be responsible. But their budget goes astray in not acknowledging that we are responsible not only for ourselves and our immediate families. Rather, our faith strongly affirms that we are all responsible for one another. I am my sister’s keeper. I am my brother’s keeper.”

Sister Simone’s speech recalled the “seamless garment” stance advanced by progressive Catholics such as Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, who in the 1980s and 1990s argued that to be “pro-life,” one must be opposed to unjust wars and capital punishment and strongly supportive of social welfare programs.

Recalling the story of a woman named Margaret, who died because she lacked adequate health insurance, Sister Simone told the Democratic convention, “The Affordable Care Act will cover people like Margaret. We all share responsibility to ensure that this vital healthcare reform law is properly implemented and that all governors expand Medicaid coverage so no more Margarets die from lack of care. This is part of my pro-life stance and the right thing to do.”

Sister Simone was arguing for balance there. It was a controversial act, and she was criticized by prominent Catholics. As recently as this year, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the Catholic church’s doctrinal watchdog, reprimanded the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States, mentioning “serious doctrinal problems.” The doctrinal wrangling is far from finished, and it still too early to make assumptions about how much the church will change under this pope.

Yet, now, the most prominent of all Catholics is suggesting that the church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.”

The Pope’s call for a “new balance” will itself be controversial. But it suggests an opening for the message that Sister Simone and others have—for many years now—been advancing about the importance of dialing up the church’s moral advocacy on behalf of peace and economic justice,

John Nichols explains why the Nuns on a Bus denounced Paul Ryan's austerity budget.

Deep Grammar

In a previous post, we wrote that every cryptic clue has to read grammatically, both on the surface and at the cryptic level. That turns out to be a more complex requirement than it might seem at first glance. Continuing our earlier discussion, here are some of the other grammatical issues that complicate clue-writing.


By convention, most clues take place in the present tense. We’re not talking now about the surface meaning, which can range pretty much anywhere, but about the cryptic working of the clue. The components of a charade are juxtaposed in the present moment, as the solver reads the clue; similarly with the letters in an anagram, or the pieces of a container clue.

But must it be so? There doesn’t seem to be any inherent reason, for example, why one couldn’t write a clue that construes the wordplay as having happened in the past. In such cases, the clue’s premise is that the processes of the wordplay—the assembling of the charade, the scrambling of the anagram fodder or the out-loud pronunciation of the homophone—have already taken place before the solver arrives on the scene (and in fact, that is always the case, since the constructor was there first).

In most cases, a more conventional present-tense clue works just as well, and we generally opt for those. But there have been several occasions when the surface of a clue calls for past-tense wordplay. Here are a few examples:
   STEPPED IN  Very softly, editor interrupted Gertrude and intervened (7,2)
   EWER  I heard you were a pitcher (4)
   PRIMA DONNA  Diva, before “Like a Virgin” was heard? (5,5)
   O CANADA  What you might hear at a hockey game: “California tied zero to zero” (1,6)
   TAKEN IN  Welcomed neatnik after tidying up (5,2)

Could one go further and write a clue in the future tense? Well, perhaps. For instance, what about this clue, for a puzzle published in February:
   MARCH  Leader in musical will take a bow next month (5)

It might not be optimal (we’d probably look for a better definition), but it would surely be legitimate.

One context in which we would not fiddle with tenses, on the other hand, is in the connection between two parts of a clue. An equivalence, let’s say between the two parts of a double-definition clue, is always true. In this clue, for instance:
   FILE  Tool is put away (4)
changing “is” to “was” or “will be,” though it would work on the surface, would make for a very strange cryptic reading.


Generally, clues are written in the third person. But there is a tradition in the UK—almost unheard of on this side of the pond—for the definition in a clue to refer to itself in the first person. Here’s an example by Richard Maltby:
   STONEWARE  I was fired in just one war: Europe (9)

We haven’t made use of this technique to date, but we’re going to add it to our repertoire.


One of the disputes we occasionally have between ourselves has to do with the question of whether to use singular or plural verbs. Most commonly the question is whether the fodder in an anagram clue should be treated as singular (because it’s one word or phrase) or plural (treating the anagrammed letters as individuals).

For instance, which of these clues is better?
   SHIFT  Fish migrates before temperature change (5) [treating FISH as a unit]
   SHIFT  Fish migrate before temperature change (5) [treating F, I, S, H as four items]
In this case, as in many cases, we’d most likely dodge the issue by making the verb a gerund:
   SHIFT  Fish migrating before temperature change (5)

But there are often cases where one or the other makes a better surface, and then we have to make the call.

What are your thoughts about clue grammar? Please share here, along with any quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.

And here are three links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where you can ask for and offer hints, and where every one of our clues is explained in detail.

Dollars, Not Ballots

An Occupy Wall Street demonstrator holds a sign challenging the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

Writing Contest Finalist

We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s eighth annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to answer this question in 800 words: It’s clear that the political system in the US isn’t working for many. If you had to pick one root cause underlying our broken politics, what would it be and why? We received close to 700 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Jim Nichols (no relation to The Nation’s John Nichols), an undergraduate at Georgia State University; and Julia Di, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Darnestown, Maryland, and Bryn Grunwald, a recent graduate of the Peak to Peak Charter in Boulder, Colorado, who were co-winners in the high school category. The three winners receive cash awards of $1,000 and the finalists $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays here.   —The Editor

In classrooms across the country, high school students learn a version of US history that celebrates American democracy precisely because each citizen’s vote carries equal weight.Yet in an era where corporations are people and dollars, not ballots, are the currency for political voice, this historical narrative is played out. Increasingly—and dangerously—money is shaping the interests and institutions that our government caters to, diminishing the power of individual votes and, in the process, discouraging the next generation of citizens from participating in politics. The resulting political landscape more closely resembles a plutocracy than the populism of eleventh grade civics.

Electoral politics has an ever-increasing price tag—$2 billion for the 2012 presidential election—but the story of that money doesn’t simply end with inauguration. Rather, large donations distort the responsibility politicians have to faithfully and equally represent their constituents, concentrating political power in the hands of a few and gridlocking action on pressing policy issues. Moreover, in a nation where economic inequality continues to grow, this diminished attention to democratic governance further marginalizes the most vulnerable.

The sheer cost of congressional races (Senate seats cost an average of nearly $10.5 million in 2012) means that elected officials spend a substantial portion of their time in the business of fundraising, not governing. Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker made headlines recently for live tweeting while a freshman Congress member solicited reelection funds (“They told me I have to raise $3 million. It’s ugly.”), and freshman senators received instructions from the Democratic Party to spend at least four hours a day raising money—twice the amount of time allotted for committee hearings and votes. Time spent on actual governance, then, is severely limited. And while gains in seniority are generally accompanied by a reduced need to hunt for funds, more entrenched members of Congress and the executive branch have an equally entrenched loyalty to big-ticket donors.

Worse, when elected officials do turn their attention from fundraising to floor votes, their loyalty to campaign donors leads to highly distorted policy outcomes—either stifled reform efforts or a complete inability to pass legislation on critical national issues. Obamacare achieved legislative success in part because it carried concessions for big business, while similar proposals for environmental reform have failed largely because of Congress members’ ties to big-spending fossil fuel industries. When Wall Street firms knowingly violated federal securities law, irresponsibly—and avoidably—plunging the country into financial decline, key figures in the collapse largely escaped prosecution. Despite what Timothy Geithner termed the “very deep public desire for Old Testament justice,” it’s not too difficult to discern why politicians eager to fund their re-election campaigns have been slow to push for accountability from a banking lobby that spent more than $251 million in 2010. More recently, massive financial support from the NRA has privileged a minority opposed to meaningful gun control legislation over a staggering 98 percent of Americans in favor of reform.

Money’s grip on Washington clearly violates our notions of democratic representation—so why does it persist? In large part, campaign finance reform faces an inherent and well-funded conundrum: the highly competitive nature of contemporary electoral politics, and the corresponding cost, serves wealthy interests well—a problem exacerbated by the Citizens United ruling. On both sides of the aisle, those seeking office (or hoping to stay in it) are forced to reckon with the influence of dollars in political races. Accordingly, special interest funding has become so ingrained in Washington politics that elected officials are no longer serving those of their constituents without millions to pledge.

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Money in politics not only corrodes policy; it has a pernicious impact on how citizens view and participate in their government. In 2012, over 63 percent of Millennials agreed that “people like me don’t have any say in what government does,” with 82 percent articulating concern over the role of business in politics. Despite this disaffection, the infusion of money into politics often doesn’t look like the most urgent cause, especially for young activists passionate about the Keystone XL pipeline or the minimum wage. Crucially, however, the sway of deep-pocketed corporate donors and lobbyists bars progress on pressing social, environmental and economic problems; the very ones Millennials care most about.

Unlike some other issues that contribute to political gridlock, the ability of wealth to distort equality at the ballot box is a problem we can work to solve. Public funding for elections, stricter corporate giving regulations, and greater lobbying oversight have proven effective on the state level in creating a more transparent and equitable American politics. For now, though, while high school civics might have taught us that each vote counts, having a voice in politics comes with a very high price tag.

Inequality Makes Democracy Impossible

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Writing Contest Co-Winner

We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s eighth annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to answer this question in 800 words: It’s clear that the political system in the US isn’t working for many. If you had to pick one root cause underlying our broken politics, what would it be and why? We received close to 700 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Jim Nichols (no relation to The Nation’s John Nichols), an undergraduate at Georgia State University; and Julia Di, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Darnestown, Maryland, and Bryn Grunwald, a recent graduate of the Peak to Peak Charter in Boulder, Colorado, who were co-winners in the high school category. The three winners receive cash awards of $1,000 and the finalists $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays here.   —The Editors

Some would call the government of the United States of America a failure. It is partisan, inefficient, unresponsive to the needs and desires of the people it is meant to serve.

American is purported to have a government by the people, for the people, of the people. But instead it is a business by lobbyists, for corporations, of CEOs and highly paid lawyers. The innate problem with the government of the United States is that it is designed to protect the plutocracy, the reign of the wealthy, and it does this, in part, through the prodigious numbers of businessmen and lawyers included in the ranks of the legislatures. Too much money is what poisons the system. Often, politicians will join or start companies of their own after they leave office and then use their new wealth to influence their old friends in Congress. The system is rigged to allow for ruling by the plutocrats instead of by the people.

Money is the root of all corruption, and the high concentration of it in the hands of a few is what led to the Great Depression, following the decade-long party of the Roaring Twenties, and the most recent crash form which we still haven't recovered. The current salary of a rank and file member of the House or the Congress is approximately $175,000 with generous benefits, as pensions and health plans. It is incredibly difficult for a highly-paid person, surrounded by people who make lots of money, to understand how it feels to support a family on incomes much lower than what they bring home. The median income of an America is approximately $50,500, far lower than that of the average member of the Congress or the House.

A part of this high inequality and its effects on the average American is shown through the tax system. No one likes paying taxes, but over the last fifty years tax rates for the wealthy have gone down considerably, at the same time as their average income has risen dramatically. The Reaganomics “trickle-down” theory has long been disproven  – money in the hands of the wealthy tends to create stagnation. As wealthy as the top might be, even the .1 percent cannot spend enough to keep the economy going. The economy is not built off gold toilet seats and stock speculation alone – it is built by people who buy shampoo and dog food, Applebee’s lunches and Safeway cookies. It’s kept going by people going on a week-long vacation to Disneyworld with their five year old and college students paying for their textbooks. It grows by regular people replacing their old van with a new Prius, getting mortgages and the latest iPhone.

While the rich can help support, jumpstart and enhance the economy, it is ordinary people that help keep it running smoothly. Often, many of the politicians in Congress, surrounded by the trappings of wealth and opulence, have trouble recognizing the inequality and the danger of plutocracy for what it is. Without a fair and effective tax system, there are few ways for the federal government to pay back the debt, invest in education or public works and infrastructure.

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With the majority of the wealth in the pockets of a few, there is little opportunity to develop those necessary faucets of daily life. And few politicians have any understanding of the effect such concentrations have for those at the bottom, for the lowest earning people in the United States, and therefore pay little consideration to that when drafting new laws and dealing with lobbyists. It is very hard for politicians to comprehend something of which they have no experience  – namely, the effects of poverty and the massive inequality the government supports through legislation and too-low income taxes.

The United States is virtually the most unequal country in the world, ahead of only Russia, Ukraine and Lebanon, according to Credit Suisse. For a more efficient, fairer, more responsive government, the focus must be taken away from the wealthy and due consideration must be paid to the plight of those in the lowest income bracket.  Effectively addressing this country's vast inequality is the only way to repair this country's broken politics.

Rape Settlement at Occidental College: Victims Barred from Campus Activism

Attorney Gloria Allred is shown speaking with students and alumni who allege Occidental College administrators violated federal standards for dealing with their rape, sexual assault or retaliation claims.  April 18, 2013 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Occidental College, the Los Angeles school where thirty-seven students and alumni filed a federal complaint last spring about rape on campus, has quietly settled with at least ten of the complainants. Under the settlement, negotiated by attorney Gloria Allred, the ten received cash payments and are barred from participating in the Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition, the campus group that organized the campaign that has resulted in a federal investigation.

The settlement, reported by the Los Angeles Times September 19 on page one, immediately provoked criticism. Danielle Dirks, a criminology professor who has been active in the campaign, told the Times that requiring “the women to remain silent and not to participate in campus activism could have a chilling effect at Occidental.” “Part of the reason so many women have come forward is because other assault survivors have been able to speak openly about their treatment,” Dirks said.

The settlement negotiated by Allred, Dirks said, “effectively erases all of the sexual assaults and the college’s wrongdoing.”

Allred, asked to comment, said in an email, "Our clients have made a choice to resolve this matter. It is a confidential matter."

Rebecca Solnit, who has written about sexual assault for TomDispatch and Mother Jones, commented, "If rape a form of silencing, what is silencing a form of? Rape?"

Under the federal civil rights complaint filed last year, the thirty-seven said the school had “deliberately discouraged victims from reporting sexual assaults, misled students about their rights during campus investigations, retaliated against whistleblowers, and handed down minor punishment to known assailants who in some cases allegedly struck again.”

Faculty and staff joined students in criticizing the administration of Oxy president Jonathan Veitch. In May, 135 faculty members and ninety-four administrators and staff members signed a resolution in support of Oxy students regarding sexual assault issues.

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Stories about victims of rape at Oxy have been published in the LA Weekly and Bloomberg News, among other places.

Investigators from the federal Office for Civil Rights are expected to arrive on campus soon.  Allred said in her email that the students involved in the settlement  "are free to participate and serve as witnesses and discuss the alleged sexual assaults and/or rapes" in the federal investigation, and also "in any campus proceeding and in any legal proceeding and/or in any court of law."

Chloe Angyal writes about why it is important for survivors of sexual assault to tell their stories.

Generation Opportunity, New Koch-Funded Front, Says Youth Are Better Off Uninsured

(REUTERS/Jim Young)

For a new Koch-funded front group for young people, money for medical bills apparently grows on trees.

Generation Opportunity, a nonprofit financed with $5.04 million from a fund controlled by the Koch brothers’ lobbying team, just launched a new television advertisement to kick off an anti-Obamacare campaign. The ads, which provides no actual information about healthcare reform and instead seem designed to scare people away from doctor visits, have already been dissected by many in the media. What’s more revealing is Generation Opportunity’s real agenda, which was explained to Yahoo News in a story unveiling the new campaign (emphasis added):

Their message: You don’t have to sign up for Obamacare. “What we’re trying to communicate is, ‘No, you’re actually not required to buy health insurance,’” Generation Opportunity President Evan Feinberg told Yahoo News in an interview about the campaign. “You might have to pay a fine, but that’s going to be cheaper for you and better for you.”

So, the big idea here is that young people should decline health insurance? Having no health insurance is “better for you?” When a car accident happens, or someone is sent to the hospital needing critical care, who picks up the bill? For slash-and-burn Koch groups, that doesn’t seem to matter.

Notably, the young men and women hired by Generation Opportunity are provided health insurance, says organization’s communications director David Pasch, who spoke to TheNation.com over the phone. Lucky them.

Ethan Rome, the executive director of Health Care for America Now, says young Americans without health insurance will be “buried by bills and unable to recover for the rest of their lives.” “What they’re advocating is seriously unconscionable,” says Rome in response to Generation Opportunity’s call for youth to go uninsured.

Generation Opportunity also told Yahoo News that it will be passing out pizza and hosting tailgate parties to promote its campaign of opposing health insurance.

These antics, of course, are nothing new for the Koch brothers and their endless array of front groups. In the nineties, Koch-funded fronts fought healthcare reform by sponsoring a “broken-down bus wreathed in red tape symbolizing government bureaucracy and hitched to a tow truck labeled, ‘This is Clinton Health Care.’ ” They also fought environmental regulations, from acid rain to industrial air pollutants, not through sound policy arguments but by sponsoring populist-appearing agit-prop. More recently, Koch fronts have paid for moonbounces and other festival-type forms of outreach to lobby on issues critical to Koch Industries’ bottom line, like weakening the Environmental Protection Agency rules that affect Koch-owned facilities.

In the end, Koch operatives seem willing to use any marketing device that works, regardless of the truth or how it might affect regular people. In this case, encouraging young Americans to abandon health insurance is worth scoring political points against healthcare reform.

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